NEW YORK, NY.-
The Loving Story: Photographs by Grey Villet, on view at the International Center of Photography
through May 6, 2012, presents a series of intimate photographs showing the love and unguarded emotions shared by Richard and Mildred Loving, a shy, non-political married couple whose landmark United States Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia overturned the countrys anti-miscegenation laws.
The exhibition, organized by Assistant Curator of Collections Erin Barnett, includes some twenty vintage prints by Grey Villet drawn from Villets estate and the Loving family. An HBO documentary The Loving Story, directed by veteran photo editor and filmmaker Nancy Buirski, inspired a stronger look at Villets legacy and his intimate images of the Lovings. In the film, his images become a narrative tool that underscores Villets personal approach to the couples story. The film debuts February 14, 2012.
The photographs focus not on the epic legal battle surrounding this groundbreaking Civil Rights case, but instead show the Lovingss dedication to each other and their family, and their daily life in the Virginia countryside they cherished. On assignment for LIFE magazine in 1965, Villet traveled to Virginia to photograph Richard Loving, a white man, and his wife Mildred, a woman of African American and Native American descent. Both families had lived in Virginia for generations; even during the Jim Crow era, their town was known for friendly relations between the races and there were many mixed-race residents.
The Lovings married in 1958 in Washington, DC, but their interracial marriage was illegal in their home state. Found guilty of violating Virginias anti-miscegenation law and banished from their home, the Lovings enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought their case to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966. The following year, the court unanimously declared Virginias Racial Integrity Act of 1924 unconstitutional and ended all race-based marriage bans in the U.S.
Villets intimate access to the Lovings and his tender images show us a side of the couple and their three children the monumental case could not. In fighting for their right to life as husband and wife in their home state, the Lovings, who were not active in the Civil Rights movement, changed American culture and politics. As marriage equality gains support and the first mixed-race U.S. president finishes his first term, the case continues to have relevance, said Barnett.
South Africanborn Villet (19272000) created some of LIFE magazines most poignant photo essays during his seventeen-year tenure. He and his wife, the writer Barbara Cummiskey Villet, collaborated on some of the finest in-depth stories ever to appear in the magazine, including The Lash of Success (1961), a look at one mans journey to wealth and success, and a year-long investigation of the Levi Smith family of Vermont, which ran in fifty pages worth of installments (1966). The Villets also published two books: Those Whom God Chooses (New York: Viking Press, 1966) and Blood River (New York: Everest House, 1982).